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5-23-12 Education and Related Issues in the News
NJ Spotlight - Newark Set to Compete for More Race to the Top Money…New contest invites districts to vie for millions for ‘personalized learning’ programs

Star Ledger - State education chief again rejects Perth Amboy school board's plea to dump superintendent

Asbury Park Press-Capitol Quickies - OLS: arrows point down

Politickernj - Administration projects revenue shortfall of $676 million

Herald News-Opinion - Poverty figures growing in NJ

NJ Spotlight - Newark Set to Compete for More Race to the Top Money…New contest invites districts to vie for millions for ‘personalized learning’ programs

By John Mooney, May 23, 2012 in Education|

Race to the Top, the signature federal program funding education changes in more than 20 states, will next be directing its money to individual districts.

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U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan yesterday announced a new contest for more than $400 million that will be made available for school systems, with Newark already saying it will apply.

Meanwhile, New Jersey’s own state education department is beginning to decide how it will distribute another $18.7 million in previously secured Race to the Top money to scores more districts.

The extension of the federal money into individual districts continues the push by the President Obama’s administration to press sometimes controversial reforms in schools, including increased student testing and stricter teacher accountability.

The newest contest announced yesterday would go to an estimated 20 middle- and low-income districts, each getting between $15 million and $25 million for what Duncan described as “personalized learning” programs.

How that was defined was still somewhat unclear, but Duncan said in a conference call with reporters that it would include programs aimed at reaching students at different levels, be it through tutoring programs, specialized classes or online programs.

“We’re being totally agnostic about this,” Duncan said. “We are not preferring one program or another. We just want results.”

Renee Harper, spokeswoman for the Newark public schools, said the district would be among those applying for the funds. Officials in other big city school systems including Los Angeles and Houston also said they would be applying for the funds.

Districts can also collaborate to file applications, with the criteria being that applicants must serve at least a total of 2,500 students, with 40 percent or more qualifying as low-income. The formal request for proposals is likely to be issued this summer, with decisions on the grants by fall.

Meanwhile, Newark already stands to gain more than $2 million in federal funds from New Jersey’s last Race to the Top award, received by the state in February in the third round of the federal program.

That money is steered more toward accountability measures that have made the Race to the Top program famous -- and controversial. That money is being directed to specific areas, including development and use of new curriculum and assessments; teacher professional development in science, math and technology; and new teacher evaluation systems.

From more than 370 districts eligible for the funding, their proposals are now before the department for review. Decisions are expected this month, with districts eligible for a few hundred dollars in small districts like Alexandria and Delaware Township to highs of $1.27 million in Paterson and $2.04 million in Newark.


Star Ledger - State education chief again rejects Perth Amboy school board's plea to dump superintendent

Published: Tuesday, May 22, 2012, 5:17 PM Updated: Tuesday, May 22, 2012, 5:43 PM

By Sue Epstein and Tom Haydon/The Star-Ledger

PERTH AMBOY — For the second time in a month, acting State Education Commissioner Christopher Cerf has rejected efforts by the Perth Amboy Board of Education to oust its schools superintendent.

In a letter dated May 18, Cerf denied a request by the school board that he reconsider his earlier decision to reinstate Janine Walker Caffrey.

On May 8, Cerf ruled the school board’s April 25 vote to place Caffrey on paid administrative leave was improper because only four of the nine members voted in favor of the action. Five others abstained. Cerf said a majority of board members had to support the move.

The board then held a special meeting on May 7, invoking what’s known as a "doctrine of necessity" that allowed those who had initially abstained to vote. This time, the board voted, 6-0, to remove Caffrey. Three members abstained.

Board members read a series of charges against Caffrey, accusing her of giving interviews to news reporters, writing articles derogatory to the district and damaging staff morale.

The board asked Cerf reconsider his May 8 decision in light of the May 7 vote. The request was denied.

"The May 8, 2012, decision was strictly limited to the board’s action that occurred at the special meeting on April 25, 2012, during which the board acted without a majority of the full membership," the commissioner’s letter said.

Cerf noted that Caffrey amended her petition to him for reinstatement to "include a challenge to that board action (the second vote) as well, including the process that the board took to invoke the doctrine of necessity."

In his letter, Cerf said he is "simply unable to make a determination to the board’s action taken at the May 7, 2012, special meeting based on the information in the current record because there are factual issues in dispute."

School board President Samuel Lebreault said he had not yet read the letter and therefore could not comment.

Caffrey, who has filed ethics complaints against two board members, has called the board’s charges baseless, and said she has been targeted for failing to hire friends of board members and for cooperating with a state investigation of the district’s free lunch program.

"Despite all the nonsense, I have had a very productive week and a half (since being reinstated as superintendent)," said Caffrey, who is in the second year of a four-year contract. "I’m happy to continue to have the opportunity to serve the children of Perth Amboy.

Caffrey has been a vocal proponent of the same brand of education changes Cerf and Gov. Chris Christie have been advocating. Both camps agree teacher tenure should be based on student performance in the classroom and that a practice known as "last-in, first-out," which protects senior teachers from layoffs, should be abolished.

The proposed reforms, however, have been unpopular with Perth Amboy’s teachers union and school board, both of which have accused Caffrey of forcing changes upon them rather than working together. Caffrey’s unwavering support for the revisions — which she has said stem from personal experience with ineffective teachers — has alienated her from her staff.

Caffrey said she has been informed there will be a special board meeting Tuesday at which time her position will be discussed.

However, Lebreault said he had not called any meeting and did not know if anyone else had.


Asbury Park Press-Capitol Quickies - OLS: arrows point down

Posted on May 22, 2012 by Jason Method

TRENTON Don’t spend that tax break yet.

Whether it was to be in lower income tax rates or a credit for property taxes paid, a new state revenue projection to be released tomorrow casts doubt as to whether New Jersey can pay for any tax cuts called for by Gov. Chris Christie and some state Democratic leaders.

The nonpartisan Office of Legislative Services said in a short note to lawmakers Tuesday that it expects revenues through June of next year to be $1.3 billion less than Christie, a Republican, expected during his February budget address when he called for a 10 percent across-the-board slice in income taxes.

That would more than swamp the cost of the tax cut, which was to begin Jan. 1 and cost some $183 million.

Such a revenue drop off from the budget could require the state, again, to find other spending cuts, whether in state aid to municipalities or schools, or further reductions in the state workforce or property tax relief credits.

In addition the warning issued by OLS, the state has also said that energy tax receipts are expected to be off by $121 million, further exacerbating the problem for the budget that begins July 1. Those taxes are mostly paid as aid to municipalities.

State Treasurer Andrew P. Sidamon-Eristoff will address the state Assembly Budget Committee at 1 p.m. today and offer his revenue projection. He may also signal what changes will be made to the current budget and the next one.

An administration source said that staff is looking at a total revenue shortfall of $676 million that straddles the end of the current budget and the next one, half of the OLS projection.

Officials declined to discuss what changes the state might make to its budget plans.

Projections, of course, are just that – estimates of how much money is expected to be collected that come with a margin of error. But with New Jersey hanging onto less than $600 million in reserves, out of a $31 billion budget, a miss is more likely to force hard decisions.

Politickernj - Administration projects revenue shortfall of $676 million

By Darryl R. Isherwood | May 22nd, 2012 - 6:09pm

The administration is projecting a revenue shortfall of $676 million through Fiscal Year 2013, a little over half the revenue miss of $1.3 billion predicted earlier today by the Office of Legislative Services.

According to an administration source with knowledge of the revenue projections, Treasurer Andrew Sidamon Eristoff will present plans to close the gap before the Assembly Budget Committee Wednesday.

The revenue shortfall for the two fiscal years amounts to about 1 percent of the overall budget, the source stressed.

Earlier Tuesday, OLS budget chief David Rosen predicted that revenues for the two-year period would be off $1.3 billion. It's not the first time OLS and the administration have differed on revenue projections. Last year, Rosen predicted a spike in revenue for the final two months of Fiscal Year 2011 that was $400 million more than administration projections.

Ultimately, Gov. Chris Christie is responsible for certifying state revenue figures and his certified numbers will be used in next year's budget.

But Democrats have already begun to use the OLS numbers to cast doubt on the "Jersey Comeback" storyline Christie has been pitching througout the year.

Administration spokesman Kevin Roberts responded to the OLS numbers earlier Tuesday, saying the non-partisan agency is notorious for missing revenue projections. Last year, OLS predicted the state would see an additional $913 million in revenue thorugh Fiscal Year 2012, while Sidamon-Eristoff put the windfall at $511 million.

"OLS has a long history of being all over the map when it comes to revenue projections and tomorrow will apparently be no exception," Roberts said. "You simply can't rely on OLS' wildly fluctuating projections when one year they're overestimating and the next they're underestimating. Consider this, if we had adopted OLS's revenue estimates last year instead of our own, we'd be facing an additional $800 million problem for this year alone. It's a good thing we didn't let the Democrats cram in another $1 billion in spending on top of base projections just so they could again pursue a reckless agenda of spending money we didn't have."

In Christie's February budget message he predicted revenue growth of 7.3 percent, which according to the Star Ledger was the most ambitious projection of any state in the nation.

Included in the governor's projections is a 10 percent across the board income tax cut. Democrats have come up with two competing proposals, but the revenue figures have put any tax cut in jeopardy, regardless of partisanship.

Last week, Senate President Steve Sweeney and Gov. Chris Christie were reportedly prepared to announce a deal that would have provided a 10 percent credit against the first $10,000 in property taxes for taxpayers earning less than $400,000.

The deal was scuttled after several legislative Democrats squawked internally that they had had no input into the decision.


Herald News –Opinion -  Poverty figures growing in NJ

A FOCUS of this election year, whether it be in the highly combative 9th Congressional District primary between Democrats Steve Rothman and Bill Pascrell Jr., or whether it be on the national level, between Mitt Romney and President Obama, has been the effect of the economic downturn on America's middle class, and what the future holds for them.

Less talked about have been the poorest among us, or the unpleasant reality that many in the middle class are slipping into the range of the poor. Luckily, we still have non-profits and advocates to point out to us discouraging numbers, even if we don't much like to read them.

In the sixth in a statewide series, the annual Poverty Benchmarks report put together by the Legal Services of the New Jersey Poverty Research Institute reminds us, in stark terms, that the economic malaise brought on by the recent recession has been "particularly severe for young adults, Hispanics, and female-headed families with children, many of whom became unemployed during the recession."

According to the research, the recession that began in 2007 and supposedly ended in 2009 helped to feed an unprecedented rise in the state's poverty rate. According to the Benchmarks report, in 2010 more than 2 million state residents were living in households where the total income was less than twice the federal poverty level. For a family of four, that equaled $44,100 for 2010. The report also found that 885,000 people, roughly one in 10 New Jerseyans, were living below the official poverty level in that year.

Even as the campaign season focuses on the problems of the middle class, the Benchmark report helps us to remember that in a just society, the poor can never be far from our minds. And we don't have to look far to see the most devastating effects of the recent economic turmoil. Passaic County was one of only three counties in the state where more than a third of the population was living in households with incomes below 200 percent of the federal poverty level.

"A lot of indicators around poverty are quite negative and there's urgency to work on these problems," said Melville D. Miller, president of Legal Services of New Jersey. "We need a deeper, harder look at this from a systemic perspective."

Taking a closer look at one part of the report lends insight into where Miller is coming from. Nearly a third of all kids under the age of 18 lived in homes earning less than double the federal poverty level, and about 15 percent in households below the poverty line. Although the poverty rate for black children was highest (about 27 percent in 2010), the poverty rates among Hispanic children has grown, from 21 percent in 2007 to nearly 27 percent in 2010. Meantime, the poverty rate for Hispanic female-headed families with children increased to 47 percent in 2010.

So what to do, with budgets being cut all-around, from the local level to Trenton to Washington? Faith-based and independent services networks are making efforts to fill the gap, but they are having trouble keeping pace with the demand.

Still, there are places to start. Although the number of households using federally funded food stamps has risen in recent years, New Jersey ranks near the bottom among the percentage of those eligible receiving the food benefit. More education on this matter would seem not so difficult or costly. The Benchmark study also calculated that New Jersey lost out on $22.5 million in federal funds because of school districts' low participation rate in the free breakfast program for students from low-income families. Again, more education and communication would help.

The Benchmark study doesn't offer easy remedies, yet it is valuable because it speaks, unashamedly, of a problem we tend too easily to forget about — the plight of our poorest residents. As the nation's economy tries to spin out of the muck of the latest recession, our political class must not think only of middle-income Americans, but of the ever-growing number of poor in our midst.

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